Gladstone preps athletics for success

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs

16 August 2001 | The honeymoon is almost over for new Athletic Director Stephen Gladstone. Just two months on the job, he's been busy preparing the department for the coming year. But things will shift to an even higher gear when the fall sports season begins in a few weeks.

In an interview with Berkeleyan writer Lyn Hunter, Gladstone talked about his goals for the department, philosophy for success and commitment to Berkeley's student athletes. Following are excerpts from that conversation.

You're such a successful crew coach, winning numerous national championships both here and at Brown University. How did you get started in this line of work?

I rowed in high school and at Syracuse University and loved it. While working on my English degree, I took a job at an investment firm overseas. I hated it. I thought: "Is this what life's going to be about?" But occasionally, we ask ourselves the right question. I asked myself where I was happiest and the answer was on the river. I couldn't make a living rowing since it isn't a professional sport, so I thought about coaching.

Given your achievements in rowing, you obviously have a knack for getting athletes to perform at their highest level. What's your secret for success and how will you transfer this to the various sports programs now under your purview?

Most athletes participating in high-level intercollegiate sports want to be successful, but some aren't sure how to do it. The challenge of coaching is not just the Xs and Os, but understanding people, finding ways to reach them, to get them to trust you and their teammates. The coach has to make clear what's required and set a standard for the way athletes train, interact with one another and how they treat themselves. The coach is a guide to attaining success; they don't trick, cajole, control or hold hands. If you can get an athlete to accept this way, the synergy reinforces itself, creating not only a strong team, but a depth of connection that is very powerful. I think most of our coaches in the department are already on this path or are in various stages of development. When given permission, I'm happy to share my experiences of some 30 years in the trenches with them. But I don't want to push or lecture. I plan to have periodic roundtables with all the coaches so we can share with each other our successes and failures.

What are your thoughts about athletes moving on to the pros before graduating?

This is always going to be an issue when a collegiate athlete is performing at a high level. Look at John McEnroe and Tiger Woods. With a signature athlete, I can accept that they may go professional before graduating. What is not acceptable is to have athletes who aren't drafted spend two or three years with our program and still not graduate. It means we haven't fulfilled our mission. Our overall graduation rate is excellent, but in our revenue sports (football, basketball), the numbers aren't so good. This isn't unique to Berkeley, but it's something we want to improve. It's crucial for our coaches to work closely with advisers so that we can fully support our athletes and make sure they don't fall through the cracks. We will partner with Derek Van Rheenen, the new director of the Athletic Study Center, to help meet these goals.

Last year, a Berkeley professor admitted giving two student athletes credit for courses they hadn't earned. How might you prevent this from happening again?

The responsibility of honesty, of telling the truth, lies with the athletes, the coaches, the faculty and, on top of that, internally in my office. We all have to look very carefully at academic progress, and if at any time, something looks suspicious, it is incumbent upon us to dig deep to see what's going on. I hope to develop a system that allows us to monitor this progress with care so this doesn't happen again. Though this professor may have had good intentions, you don't help by not telling the truth. Saying it's OK to cheat is not a good message to give.

There is growing concern across the country that collegiate sports have become too commercial, with program budgets spiraling out of control. What is your take on this issue?

At Berkeley - and I believe it is this way at most public universities - we are required to be self-sufficient. We receive a minimal amount of money from the general campus budget. We believe there is an educational value to providing a broad athletics program on campus, but that requires money. Since it doesn't come from the university or the state, we rely on revenues from football and basketball games, which involve TV contracts, corporate sponsorships and advertising. You could argue that if our universities truly believe that sports is part of the academic mission, and not just a public relations tool, then why not help fund it? That's how the Ivy League schools do it. By not funding sports, universities are in some ways inviting commercialization of sports.

What are some of your goals for the department over the next year?

I would like to see endowments and annual giving increase for all our non-revenue teams. I want to see our teams performing at a higher level, particularly football. Tom (Holmoe, head coach) and his staff are aware of what they need to do. I also want our administrative and coaching staff on the same page, working together to create an atmosphere of support for each other. Improving these relationships will bring our programs forward. Our goal is not simply to put championship flags on the wall, but to understand and appreciate what went into getting that flag on the wall. We - administrators, coaches and athletes - can all get satisfaction from that.


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